Heavy Optimism

Kevin Johnson18.05.09 - By Chris Acosta - I decided to give the guy who calls himself “Kingpin” one more chance this past Friday on ESPN. His original opponent (the hot and cold Monte Barrett) pulled out because of an injury and fellow undefeated prospect Devin Vargas stepped in. Suddenly, another ho-hum fight which would have told us very little about Kevin Johnson became interesting to say the most. I know, I know, Vargas, a 2004 Olympian is no terror, but he’s a young guy and ambitious and from the clips I’ve seen of him on You Tube, reasonably talented. And he came in to the fight in good shape and wanting to make a splash. Most of all, he sounded desperately sincere that he was coming to win and compared to the list of Johnson’s past opposition; that was saying a lot.

Still, my prediction was understandably reserved: Johnson would cruise to another decision win. He’d tease us with that booming jab and then put it away while he played defense; opening up whenever he felt like it was time to steal the round. And after boring us into a nice nap (those good ones where you kick every few minutes), he’d wake us up by screaming into the television monitor that he was the best heavyweight boxer out there and that no one wanted to fight him..

But as things often go when you don’t expect much, the outcome was a major surprise. Johnson stalked his smaller adversary like a B-movie horror villain and when he threw his punches, did so with the intention of knocking him out. The Atlanta native has always looked the part of a real contender, athletic as hell and in control of himself in tight situations. Built like a longer-armed Razor Ruddock, Johnson rolled with punches and countered with precision. He took charge when he normally would have laid back and allowed the other man to whack away.

To Vargas’ credit, he fought back hard when stung and tried to box in spots, turning into creative angles after he punched but there was Johnson coming and coming and coming until the pressure burst Vargas’ bubble (or at least, his corner, who threw in the towel in the 6th round).

I didn’t quite know what to think at the conclusion of the bout. Was Kevin Johnson that good or was Vargas just a mediocre guy who made him look better than he was? I’m, going to go with the former on this one. In this age of overt pessimism, what’s so bad with getting a little excited (or even stoked, as we Californian’s like to say) about a heavyweight who knocks a guy out? The Kingpin gave the fans his best effort to date and on his biggest stage to boot.

I am growing tired of hearing HBO drone on about the lack of American heavyweights on the scene today. I’m American and I could care less where the guy is from so long as he’s fun to watch. And by “fun” that means overlooking body type expectations or technical deficiencies.

The general sports fan believes there are no exciting heavyweights out there thanks in part to all the boxing writers who won’t just shut up about it. But there are and I will list a few of them; some of which you already know and some dark horses.

Chris Arreola: He’s fat. We’ve been through this issue enough times to finally just let it go. Besides, would you rather have an aggressive fat guy who as Lennox Lewis puts it, has a “caveman style” or watch a rippling Adonis clutch and jab for 12 rounds? Me too. Plus, Arreola is of Mexican descent which means that he’s been born into a monster fan base. Chris is also a combination puncher who has remarkable accuracy and stamina and thus not likely to ever become a fighter who waits all day to land the KO punch. He’s never been in a bad fight either which
is cool at any weight. So for the last time, he’s fat; get over it people.

David Haye: It’s amazing how many folks are dismissing Haye’s chances at heavyweight because of him having come up from its southerly division. Haye is 6’ 3” and will weigh 220 pounds by the time he fights Wladimir Klitscko on June 20th in Germany in front of 60,000 fans (are “they” sure boxing is dead?). Incidentally, that’s the same size a guy named George Foreman was during his heyday. I’m not saying that the Brit is as powerful as Big George, but he’s way faster and can drop a fight-ending bomb from seemingly out of nowhere. He’s a heavyweight and that’s that and Wladimir, a guy not known for having concrete in his jaw, had better not forget that.

Alexander Povetkin. The 28 year-old Russian is adored in his native country and has been deemed by many as the man to beat among its contenders. I am not one of them. Povetkin is tough and willing but seems to lack serious speed or power. The reason I list him here is because he’s consistent and always tries to win a fight one round at a time. Throw in the fact that he’s easy to hit and he makes for good action. It’ll be interesting to see how far he goes.

Alexander Dimitrenko. Born of that Ukrainian factory that loves to crank out 6’ 7” heavyweights, Dimitrenko is something of an anomaly. Unlike the Klitschko brothers who are dependent on keeping a fight at long range, this monster can’t resist getting inside and cranking away with jarring uppercuts and vicious hooks to the body (see the one that deflated Luan Krasniqi). His body is better suited to jab, cross and tie up the shorter guy but thank God he didn’t read that book. Dimitrenko has a mean side and I have a sneaking suspicion we’ll see it unveiled on a major stage.

Denis Boytsov. Another Russian prospect on the rise, Boytsov is unlike many of his geographical counterparts in that he’s a hard- charging puncher with a relentless style. He’s been fed the usual suspects and went three straight fights without a KO (Cisse Salif, Vinny Maddalone and Robert Hawkins) before smashing Israel Garcia a round sooner than Arreola did. The fact that he couldn’t finish those three men was actually a good thing for him in the long run. He’s learning both patience and fighting within the dimensions of his 6’ 1” frame; keeping low, jabbing on his way in and moving his head. The KO of Garcia showed a bit of that.

Bowie Tupou. The first of my “Dark horse” category, Tupou is a powerful Tongan (do they make them any other way?) who appears to have time and a great trainer on his side. He’s only 26 and under the guidance of Eddie Mustapha Muhammed, could make big waves over the next two years. I’ve seen him on tape a few times and he’s raw but has shown tangible improvement each time out which shows that he’s a willing student. Tupou is a hair over six –foot-two and most importantly to this article, a tremendous puncher. If he can learn adequate defense and apply some finer points to his game, it could make a major difference.

David Rodriguez. Incredibly, there’s another Mexican heavyweight in the division in the same era. “Nino” who hails from El Paso, Texas, is like Tupou in that he has zero amateur background. He’s a youthful 31 years of age which shouldn’t hurt him given the delayed maturity factor of heavyweights. So why give him consideration? He’s a gifted physical specimen who at 6’ 4” and 245 lbs. looks to have the kinds of moves and coordination that would take less gifted athletes much longer to grasp. These physical endowments might also help compensate a bit for the fundamental mistakes he’s likely to make along the way. So far his opposition has been dreadful so it’s likely that his first step will be a major one. I’ll keep an eye out.

Tomasz Adamek: The current unified Cruiserweight champ has expressed his desire to win the heavyweight championship. If he decides to give it a go, he’ll follow immediately in David Haye’s still-unfulfilled steps. It’s uncommon for two cruiserweight kings to make the move up in such quick succession but it’s a welcome move and adds intrigue.

The Polish fighter isn’t a particularly large cruiser at 6’ 11/2” but he’s capable of adding fifteen or so pounds to his frame and could be the good small heavyweight many have been waiting for. Solid of chin and quick-fisted, Adamek is a tough man with a hardened determination that his more famous countryman Andrew Golota, was often incapable of mustering. It wouldn’t be a huge shock to see him crack the top ten. I really believe that the heavyweight division is about to enter its next cycle of prosperity. There are contenders who’ve been in the public eye and some who like Johnson, just might breach the surface of our awareness within a single fight. And this list contains no certainties: the forerunner may not even be on this list. Malik Scott from Philadelphia is 34-0 and insiders have speculated on his obvious ability for some time.

The Klitschko brothers are talented boxers who don’t ignite much enthusiasm unless their opponent is a genuine threat. This next wave of contenders might replace them at the top or bring out the best in them. It’s going to work itself out one way or another. Hopefully it’ll be fun to witness as it transpires.

Article posted on 18.05.2009

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